Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dubai 7s Women's Preview: A New Cycle Begins

So it begins. For the first time the Women Eagles 7s head into a new Olympic cycle. Several months after their 5th place showing in Rio the team is back in Dubai ready to start the journey all over again. There have been some changes on the roster with several veterans moving on while at the same time younger players have been brought in. As a time of transition for the team it's not going to be a smooth ride but the same could be said for nearly every other team on the Series. Although some teams have firmly established themselves there is a blank slate for everyone and it's in that the Eagles will look to have success.

The Team

Only four players from the Rio squad remain in the Dubai as head coach Richie Walker has made changes. Some of those changes come from long-time players like Kelly Griffin transitioning while others are injured. The four that remain are Alev Kelter, Lauren Doyle, Ryan Carlyle, and Nana Fa'avesi. Kelter and Fa'avesi are coming off the Women Eagles tour of France. In addition to the four players like Kate Zackary and Nicole Heavirland have plenty of experience. They are going to be asked to play a bigger role this year.

Take the jump to read more.

The newcomers include Life standout Nicole Strasko, Penn State's Kayla Canett, Kristine Sommer from the Seattle Saracens and Bulou Mataitoga. Cheta Emba and Naya Tapper will also debut although they have been in camp with the Eagles before. Expect the new players to have some nerves but once things settle down they should be ready to go.

Squad: Ryan Carlyle, Lauren Doyle, Alev Kelter, Nana Fa'avesi, Kate Zackary, Nicole Heavirland, Naya Tapper, Nicole Strasko, Kayla Canett, Kristine Sommer, Bulou Mataitoga, Cheta Emba

The Opponents

Russia (4:28 a.m. et/1:28 a.m. pt): The Russians were the big name to miss out on qualification for the Olympics last summer. They were an on and off side last year on the Series and it caught up to them in their loss to Spain. They are going to be an interesting team in Dubai. Will they come out with redemption on their minds or are they going in with a clean slate looking to 2020? Either way, they are a team that on their best day can play with the best of them and the Eagles better be on guard.

South Africa (7:24 a.m. et/4:24 a.m. pt): South Africa also didn't make it to Rio but in an entirely different fashion than Russia. They qualified for the tournament as the African champions but their Olympic committee decided to keep them home for whatever reason. Traditionally, South Africa haven't been one of the top performers on the Series and after the Olympic turmoil that should continue to hold true.

Australia (10:43 a.m. et/7:43 a.m. pt): Australia will be the toughest team for the Eagles in the pool and the only match in which they are not favored to win. They are the gold medalists and bring a squad loaded with talent. They came on especially well at the end of the year last year and that is going to carry over. The U.S. aren't expected to win but this match will be a barometer on this edition of the Eagles.

The Keys to the Tournament

Expectations: Without question that team is heading into the tournament to win but at the same time with a new team full of untested players there are going to be some nerves. The team needs to realize that success isn't going to happen overnight and that their expectations should be on making play after play not necessarily winning the tournament.

Turnovers: This is what killed the Eagles during the Olympics. 7s s all about possession and they have to take care of the ball in order to have success. If they make a bad pass or another error they could find themselves on the wrong side of the result against Russia.

Veterans: Players like Kelter, Carlyle, and Doyle are going to be expected to play big. Kelter is turning herself into potentially the greatest Women Eagle of all-time and stepping up this year as one of the elite players on the Series is only going to help the team.

The Takeaway

It's important to remember that this is just the first step on the Eagles road to the 2018 World Cup in San Francisco and the 2020 Olympics. It's not going to be a perfect tournament but regardless of that the Eagles need to establish themselves as one of the top teams on the Series. That means they must make the Cup quarterfinals of every tournament. That hasn't always been the case the last few years. However, we think that this is the year that changes. The Eagles have set up a program to succeed and many of the players coming into the team have been in good environments that should allow them to come in and contribute quickly. They likely aren't going to win but if they can get back to 5th place then the tournament will be a success.

1 comment:

  1. Tapper was capped last season on the Women's series in Sao Paulo under Coach McCoy. Showed some very impressive speed. Excited to see Zackary back in the lineup.